A very good sailor once told me that racing was the best way to hone my sailing skills. I have to agree with him. The racer’s attention to detail in setting up and trimming the boat and the tactical aspects of navigation really do help you get from A to B faster and more efficiently.
Some will claim that, as cruisers, they really don’t care how long it takes to reach their destination but I think the majority of sailors prefer to think of themselves as skilled in harnessing the winds and currents and that’s exactly what racers are.
There are obvious differences between the priorities of the racer and those of the cruiser – racers have big crews and can handle complex sails such as spinnakers more readily and they will persist in pursuing the fastest course to the line when the cruiser may be taking a longer but less arduous route. The short-handed cruiser may reef down before the racing crew even considers it and the cruiser may choose to heave-to whilst the racing crew battles on.
The lessons to be learnt from the racing circuit about making the boat go faster benefit the cruising sailor. In particular, proper sail trim and rig tuning are as relevant to one as the other.
Knowing that your rig is tuned and your sails are set to make the most of the available breeze gives a sense of contentment and satisfaction. Racing teaches you to achieve this because the focus is always on speed, on efficiency. Hitch a ride on a racing boat and you’ll see what I mean.